Leading an organization means making a lot of big decisions, many of which come with equally big risks. Risks are necessary if you want to keep innovating and growing. When looking for the courage to take that next significant step, you can be inspired by other innovators who have taken the chance on a big idea and reaped the rewards.
The members of Business Journals Leadership Trust have taken a lot of chances throughout their careers, and some of them have paid off in big ways. Below, 12 of them share the biggest risk they ever took that ultimately yielded a positive result.
1. Starting a production house.
A big risk was starting our award-winning production house in 2017, Matter Films. Business counselors were steering us away from the venture, but we felt in our gut that it was the right decision and that long-form documentaries and TV commercials were going to be the future of advertising. Matter Films has grown to be one of the largest and most integrated production companies in the Southwest. – Scott Harkey, OH Partners
2. Launching my own law practice.
The biggest risk I took in my career was leaving the security of my prior law firm in 2013 and starting my own law firm. It was a huge leap of faith, but I am so glad I made the leap! What initially began as a solo practice with just myself, my paralegal and a receptionist has now become a firm with five lawyers, multiple assistants and paralegals, and three offices across the state. – Donna Stockham, Stockham Law Group, P.A
3. Trusting people.
The old adage “trust is earned” misses the point that you must extend trust before someone can demonstrate it was well-placed. A consistent risk I take in business is giving people trust and latitude to grow and make decisions. When I communicate and demonstrate my confidence in them, they usually rise to the occasion and deliver on the extended trust and opportunity. Just build trust slowly. – Adam Boudreaux, Traction in Florida
4. Joining a business partnership during an economic recession.
When I was 28, we had one of the biggest recessions in U.S. history. Everyone was getting laid off. One of the founders of the company I worked for at the time asked me to lunch. I thought, “Here it comes.” But instead, he offered me a partnership. The risk? I said yes to taking a significant stake in an architecture firm in one of the slowest economic times ever! – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects
5. Forgoing a second round of funding.
As an early startup with only a $300,000 seed round, we risked forgoing a second round of financing. Anxiously, we watched our bank balance drop from $100,000 to $20,000 to $5,000 as we pushed our revenue to match our burn rate. We finally became profitable with barely any cash left and rose to consistent profitability. The risk paid off — we were able to keep equity in the hands of our team. – James Pittman, Docketwise
6. Investing in my business during tough times.
The biggest risk I took that paid off at Landis Communications Inc. was investing in the business during the downturn of 2001. The economy was bleak, but we wanted to be one of the PR agencies still standing when the economy turned around. I took out a loan, kept our staff on payroll and didn’t pay myself for a while. It paid off. Here we are, celebrating 30 years in business this year. – David Landis, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI)
7. Hiring for the future.
I am a risk-taker by nature. Some risks pay off and some don’t. One risk that has consistently paid off is recruiting and hiring great talent even before our business needs it. Good talent is a must for any growth strategy, and when we identify people who will enable us to grow, we act on it. – Chip Ridge, Millennial Title
8. Shifting to a remote work model before it was commonplace.
In 2007, we took a risk on remote work. Out of space in our brick-and-mortar, we bet on emerging technology, our great people and our innovative culture to move from a co-located workforce to a globally distributed team. Being one of the first companies like ours to do this, the path was bumpy, but I cannot overstate the payoffs we have seen for our business, our employees and our clients. – Natalie Ruiz, AnswerConnect
9. Investing in AI marketing technology.
As marketing automation specialists, we drank our own bathwater last year by making a significant investment in artificial intelligence for our own agency operations. Our ability to now auto-optimize significant areas of marketing operations means we are able to deliver more value with less overhead than many agencies more than twice our size. – Leigh Dow, 48 West Agency
10. Empowering my team.
Business leaders have a strong perspective on how projects should be completed. My biggest risks involved empowering teammates to make decisions that may have differed from my own. When those who are closest to the customer and details have a different opinion, empower the team to make the decision. This is why you hired them in the first place. This has often driven stronger outcomes. – Vincent Phamvan, Vyten Career Coaching
11. Shifting from a service company to a technology company.
A technology company has a high burn rate of cash and a lot of intellectual property. A service company simply has employees who spend time and build the hours like a professional services company. We had to hire more engineers than we have other roles, and that was a big risk that we weren’t sure we wanted to undertake, but it was a risk that certainly paid off a thousand times over. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
12. Leading with my heart.
I take the biggest risk daily: I lead with my heart. Letting intuition guide my process was not natural at first, but it has resulted in larger-than-imaginable payouts for myself and our entire organization. We have a happy work environment in which every team member is cherished and celebrated. Our ROI is both financially and emotionally felt. Leading with the heart is a big risk that gives daily returns. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management.